A Thousand Words

Robert in Ukraine

I have been fortunate to visit some beautiful places in my travels, but it’s always the personal encounters that are my favorite memories. A conversation with someone local is usually enlightening and rewarding, and often leaves one with a better sense of a place. As a portrait photographer, I am always drawn to people when traveling, however it’s not always easy for me to request a picture. They are not asking me to be there, and I don’t want to intrude. Luckily there are people like Robert, who are so easy-going and friendly that I just know they won’t object.

Robert is a cab driver we met when we stepped off a very rickety bus into a teeny, tiny Carpathian village in Western Ukraine. We were lucky to meet someone so willing to be helpful, as we had nowhere to stay and only a vague notion of what we planned to do about that. Our research had implied that in such teeny, tiny Carpathian villages like Kosiv, we could arrange a homestay with a Hutsul family. The Hutsuls are an ethno-cultural group in the Carpathian highlands known for their craftsmanship and folk music. Due to their isolation in the mountains, they have been able to preserve their traditional way of life, even under the rule of many different governments. Once Robert understood that we weren’t interested in the hotel, he offered to bring us to his uncle’s house. Or maybe it was a friend’s uncle. We were never clear on the details, since communication was reduced to the basics. This was not a problem for us though, since that smile said everything we needed to know. Throughout the following days spent in Ukraine’s Hutsul region, we would see many more welcoming smiles such as Robert’s.

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